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Vanuatu - Malakula.PNG
Map of Malakula
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 16°15′S167°30′E / 16.250°S 167.500°E / -16.250; 167.500 Coordinates: 16°15′S167°30′E / 16.250°S 167.500°E / -16.250; 167.500
Archipelago New Hebrides
Area2,041 km2 (788 sq mi)
Highest elevation879 m (2884 ft)
Highest point Mount Liambele
Province Malampa
Largest settlement Lakatoro
Population22,934 (2009)
Ethnic groups Ni-Vanuatu

Malakula Island, also spelled Malekula, is the second-largest island in the nation of Vanuatu, which is in Melanesia, a region of the Pacific Ocean.



Malakula is separated from the islands of Espiritu Santo and Malo by the Bougainville Strait. Lakatoro, the capital of Malampa Province, is situated on Malakula’s northeastern shore and is the largest settlement on the island. Just off the northeastern coast of Malakula, there is a group of islands called the Small Islands, including, in order from north to south: Vao, Atchin, Wala, Rano, Norsup, Uripiv, and Uri. Also off the coast: Tomman Island to the southwest; Akhamb Island to the south; and the Maskelynes Islands to the southeast (including Sakao Island and Uluveo).

Malakula has a maximum elevation of 879 m. Its peak is called Mt. Liambele. [1] In 1768, Louis Antoine de Bougainville gave his name to the straits that separate Malakula from Santo.


Effigy Figure (Rambaramp), before 1880. Wood, fiber, mud, pigment, bone, shell, boar's tusks. Brooklyn Museum Effigy Figure (Rambaramp), before 1880.jpg
Effigy Figure (Rambaramp), before 1880. Wood, fiber, mud, pigment, bone, shell, boar's tusks. Brooklyn Museum
Canoe prow, Vao Island MHNT Vanuatu MHNT ETH AC NG 29 pirogue.jpg
Canoe prow, Vao Island MHNT

Malakula was inhabited for centuries by the Ni-Vanuatu people before Europeans encountered it. The first Europeans to sight the island were the members of the Spanish expedition of Pedro Fernández de Quirós, in 1606. [2]

In 1914 and 1915 the British anthropologist John Layard lived on the island, doing anthropological fieldwork, taking notes, making phonographic records, and taking more than 400 photographs. When he returned to Britain, he donated copies of photographs on plates to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge.


According to the 2009 census, Malakula has around 23,000 inhabitants. [3]

Nearly thirty different languages are spoken on the island. [4] The two tribes living there are the Big Nambas, who live in the northern area of the island, and the Small Nambas, who live in the central part of the southern area. The tribes’ names are a reference to the size of the penis sheaths worn by the men, which are made out of banana or pandanus leaves. [5]

Until recently, it was the custom in the culture of these tribes to bind infants' skulls in order to permanently alter the shape of their heads. Cone-shaped skulls were considered a sign of higher social status.

Economy and services

Malakula funeral masks - nineteenth century Masque des Vanuatu - Saves MHNT ETH AC NH 66.jpg
Malakula funeral masks – nineteenth century

Malakula's economy is largely based on agriculture. The island has extensive copra plantations on the eastern coastal plains around Norsup and Lakatoro. The largest copra-producing plantation in Vanuatu is in Norsup. In 1939, a copra cooperative was set up at Matanvat in northern Malakula. For a while it turned to cargo cult activities, but after 1950 it resumed copra production.

Both Norsup and Lakatoro have telephones and 24-hour electricity. Norsup is the site of the provincial hospital. Lakatoro has more stores than Norsup. It has a market house, a branch of the National Bank of Vanuatu, and an Air Vanuatu office. It is also the site of the island’s main wharf and the administrative centre for Malampa province (which includes Malekula, Ambrym and Paama).


The interior of Malekula is mountainous, rugged, and forest-covered. It is a good place for walking and bird watching. There are old cannibal sites hidden in the bush in northern Malekula, but at many of them the bones and skulls have been removed or buried. The Maskelynes and the small offshore islands along the east coast of Malekula have sand beaches, as well as coral reefs that are good places for recreational snorkeling and diving.


Air transport

There are three airports on Malekula. They are located at Norsup (in the northern part of the island), Lamap (in the southeastern part of the island), and Southwest Bay. The Norsup airport has a tarmac surface. Air Vanuatu operates daily flights to Malekula.

Road transport

Lakatoro is Malekula's road-transport hub. The best place to find trucks is at the Lakatoro Trading Centre. There are several trucks along the northeast coast as far as Vao.

See also


in Bislama language
John Layard long Malakula 1914–1915, Vanuatu Cultural Centre

Related Research Articles

Vanuatu Island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean

Vanuatu, officially the Republic of Vanuatu, is an island country located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is 1,750 kilometres (1,090 mi) east of northern Australia, 540 kilometres (340 mi) northeast of New Caledonia, east of New Guinea, southeast of the Solomon Islands, and west of Fiji.

Espiritu Santo

Espiritu Santo is the largest island in the nation of Vanuatu, with an area of 3,955.5 km2 (1,527.2 sq mi) and a population of around 40,000 according to the 2009 census.

Malampa Province

Malampa is one of the six provinces of Vanuatu, located in the center of the country. It consists of three main islands: Malakula, Ambrym and Paama, and takes its name from the first syllable of their names. It includes a number of other islands – the small islands of Uripiv, Norsup, Rano, Wala, Atchin and Vao off the coast of Malakula, and the volcanic island of Lopevi. Also included are the Maskelynes Islands and some more small islands along the south coast of Malakula.


Ambrym is a volcanic island in Malampa Province in the archipelago of Vanuatu. Volcanic activity on the island includes lava lakes in two craters near the summit.

Lakatoro Village in Malampa Province, Vanuatu

Lakatoro is the capital of Malampa Province of the island country of Vanuatu. It is situated on the eastern shore of Malakula and is the largest settlement in that island. Lakatoro consists of a couple of retail shops, a supermarket, a local market selling locally farmed goods.

Ambae Island

Ambae Island, also known as Aoba or Oba and formerly Leper's Island, is an island in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, located near 15°30′S167°30′E, approximately 165 miles (266 km) NNW of Vanuatu's capital city, Port Vila.


Paama is a small island in Malampa Province, Vanuatu.

Southern Oceanic languages Subgroup of the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian language family

The Southern Oceanic languages are a linkage of Oceanic languages spoken in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It was proposed by Lynch, Ross, and Crowley in 2002 and supported by later studies. They consider it to be a linkage rather than a language group with a clearly defined internal nested structure.

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Namba (clothing)

A namba is a traditional penis sheath from Vanuatu. Nambas are wrapped around the penis of the wearer, sometimes as their only clothing. Two tribes on Malakula, the Big Nambas and the Smol (Small) Nambas, are named for the size of their nambas.

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Vanuatu, officially known as the Republic of Vanuatu, is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is some 1,750 kilometres (1,090 mi) east of northern Australia, 500 kilometres (310 mi) north-east of New Caledonia, west of Fiji, and southeast of the Solomon Islands, near New Guinea. The nation's largest town and the capital Port Vila is situated on Efate Island.

Maskelyne Islands Archipelago in Malampa Province, Vanuatu

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Ahamb, also spelled Axamb or Akhamb is an Oceanic language spoken in South Malakula, Vanuatu. Ahamb has around 1000 speakers, most of whom reside on the small low-lying Ahamb Island and the nearby Malekula mainland. The language is endangered due to a number of factors, including climate change and environmental factors.

Uripiv Island is a small inhabited island in Malampa Province of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean. Uripiv lies off the north coast of Malekula Island. The estimated terrain elevation above the sea level is some 8 meters.

Uluveo Island is a small, inhabited island in Malampa Province of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean. It is a part of the Maskelyne Islands archipelago.

Arthur Bernard Deacon (1903-1927) was a social anthropologist who carried out fieldwork on the islands of Malakula and Ambrym in what is now Vanuatu.

The Malakula languages are a group of Central Vanuatu languages spoken on Malakula Island in central Vanuatu. Unlike some earlier classifications, Lynch (2016) considers the Malakula languages to form a coherent group.

Savage Civilisation by Tom Harrisson was published in January 1937 by Victor Gollancz. The book is a mixture of history, ethnographical account and travel narrative, set in the New Hebrides. Harrisson’s biographer, Judith Heimann, describes it as one of the “few works of scholarship in the social sciences to have survived so well the sixty-odd years” since its publication.


  1. Malekula, Vanuatu – island travel, accommodation, culture, reefs, beaches, rivers, forests
  2. Rienzi, M.L. Historia de la Oceanía, o quinta parte del mundo Barcelona, 1845-1846, vol IV, p.107
  3. 2009 Census Summary release final Archived 2013-12-21 at the Wayback Machine – Government of Vanuatu
  4. Languages of Malakula
  5. Malakula island of Vanuatu